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Can Probiotics Cause Bacterial Overgrowth?

Are you taking probiotics for IBS symptoms and they are making things worse? Do you think your probiotics might be causing a bacterial overgrowth scenario?  In this article, we look at the role of probiotics in causing bacterial overgrowth, SIBO or other bacterial overgrowth symptoms.  


If you want to understand the role of probiotics in causing bacterial overgrowth, keep reading. 

Can Probiotics Cause Bacterial Overgrowth?

Probiotics do not cause bacterial overgrowth but they can make it worse.  With bacterial overgrowth, also known as Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), it requires that a significant number of bacteria from the large intestine get into the small intestine live, survive, and thrive there.  Many people take probiotics to support the bacteria in the large intestine.  So it makes sense that some people also believe taking these same probiotics that support the large intestine bacteria, may cause bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine.  This is just not the case though.

Now it's clear from research that taking probiotics do help support the overall balance and health of the microbiome in the large intestine.  However they may not be helping the way you think.  The vast majority of these probiotics that you take by mouth do not survive the trip from the mouth into the large intestine.  You might be thinking that doesn't make sense, how do they help then?


The idea is that the probiotics work like a placeholder for the colonies of good bacteria.  By occupying that space you prevent other pathogenic microbes from infiltrating the colonies of good bacteria.  We said the vast majority of probiotic supplements do not survive the transit from the mouth to the large intestine. Therefore, it would not make much sense that taking probiotics lead to bacterial overgrowth.  I won't say that it cannot happen in any circumstances.  It's just very unlikely and research does support this fact.  Some people do feel worse from taking probiotics though.  They sometimes give them bacterial overgrowth like symptoms or SIBO symptoms.  Why is that?


Probiotic Or Prebiotics?

Many if not most probiotics contain prebiotics.  Prebiotics are good easily digested food for bacteria.  Bacteria digest these prebiotics through a process called fermentation.  The natural byproduct of fermentation is gas. All fermentable carbohydrates do cause this same gas-like effect.  Prebiotics are going to do this a little more than some other fermentable carbohydrate.  It's natural to have a little bit of gas or bloating from prebiotics or probiotics at least at first.  These symptoms should be subtle and short-lived though.  If you start taking probiotics, and you get overt severe and ongoing digestive issues like gas bloating pain etc, it's probably from the prebiotic in your probiotic.  Have a look at the back of the bottle you are taking and look for FOS (fructooligosacarides), inulin, artichoke extract, etc. These are all prebiotics.  For a deeper into the prebiotic world check out this article. 

Prebiotics and SIBO

Just to summarize probiotics do not cause SIBO or bacterial overgrowth but prebiotics in the probiotics can make it worse.  As a result they can make you more aware of the problem that was already exists.  Still, probiotics can be helpful for people with IBS and other digestive symptoms. 

Ok this should give you a better understanding of the role of probiotics causing bacterial overgrowth.  If you have questions about the content in this article, please ask it in the comment section below.

If you want a customized plan on your IBS or bacterial overgrowth symptoms, click in the link below to get started. 

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